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Published: Sunday, 4/20/2008

Leyland's tongue-lashing warmed the air

Jim Leyland had seen enough.

But enough of what, exactly?

Following the Tigers' 11-0 loss in blustery Chicago a week ago today, Leyland erupted at his players, and this was how he later explained his outburst, according to published reports: "There was one thing that sticks out, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back."

Leyland, whose team struggled for two weeks before his scolding, declined to say what that straw was.

Fast forward a few days to Tuesday, moments after the Tigers beat Minnesota 6-5 with their second come-from-behind win in as many nights - and a warmer night at that. The Tigers' manager was asked if Magglio Ordonez's improved hitting in those two games made Leyland feel better about his team, and this is what he said:

"You're always careful what you say after two games of success, so you've got to be a little careful, but I'm hoping what I think was part of the [Tigers'] problem, I'm hoping we'll get behind it as soon as possible."

Huh? I know, I know. Have a little patience.

Leyland continued: "Magglio hit about .160 for the first 12 games of last season. When the weather started to get a little [better] and we had some nicer nights, Magglio started to do real good, concentrate a little better. I just think there are some guys who feel better [when the weather is warmer]. It doesn't mean they're not bearing down, but it's hard to go out there when you're freezing cold."

So did Leyland yell at his players - who are collectively making about $139 million this year - to quit being cold?

Not exactly.

But what was likely the gist of Leyland's tirade was that even though Aprils in the northern United States are a bit frosty, and many of his players grew up in tropical climates, it was necessary for them to sharpen their focus and light their own fires until the weather warms.

And after beginning the year

0-7 and 2-10, the Tigers responded by winning four of their next five games.

Maybe warmer weather in Cleveland and Toronto - of all places - had something to do with the Tigers' resurgence, but Leyland's message of mental toughness also played a role.

ON THE MOVE: When Curtis Granderson rejoins the Tigers, it appears new fan favorite Clete Thomas could be the odd man out. Thomas, 24, who doubled in his first major league at-bat on opening day and has held his own as a part-time starter in Detroit, will have his playing time drastically reduced when Granderson resumes his spot in center field.

And last week Leyland said Ryan Raburn, a Toledo favorite, will be with Detroit for a while this time, which made it sound even more like Thomas' ticket for Mudville was all but punched.

There are, of course, other moves to be made that could keep Thomas in Detroit when Granderson is ready, but many of them require messing with the Tigers' equilibrium. [Do you see them trading or parting with Brandon Inge, Jacque Jones, Ramon Santiago, or Marcus Thames?]

So if Raburn is indeed safe, Thomas, who has never played a day in Triple-A, probably will spend at least a little time as a Mud Hen.

A BIT CHIPPY: There were five batters hit by a pitch in the Indians' 11-1 win over the Tigers Thursday - three by Detroit pitching and two by Cleveland hurlers.

The Tigers' Justin Verlander hit two batters in five innings, and the Indians' Fausto Carmona hit two in the sixth inning alone. The first batter Carmona hit was on a slider - and not likely intentional - but then he plunked Gary Sheffield with a fastball right on Sheffield's thigh.

That one looked a little iffy. So later in the game, Detroit reliever Bobby Seay hit Grady Sizemore.

After the game, Indians manager Eric Wedge declined comment on the beanball fest, but his no comment gave the feeling that he was biting his tongue.

Leyland, meanwhile, hinted to reporters that he removed Ordonez from the game in part because he didn't want him plunked.

Hmm.

Both clubs don't meet again until June 6.

- Joe Vardon



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